George Mason University’s OER Metafinder Search Tool: The Back Story

wallyg-gmu2Authored by Wally Grotophorst, Associate University Librarian for Digital Programs and Systems, George Mason University Libraries

This past summer I attended a meeting with the library’s Mason Publishing Group and representatives of the Provosts office, exploring what we could do to reduce the cost of textbooks and promote open educational resources across campus.  During the course of the meeting, we looked at several of the most popular OER content sites and batted around a few ideas for surfacing appropriate content for interested faculty–maybe lists by subject, maybe a LibGuide for OER content, and so on.

I wasn’t convinced an exhaustive list of OER sites would be enough. I left the meeting with the image of a faculty member—excited by idea of OERs–feeling the enthusiasm drain away as she dove in and out of the various content silos.   Soon I found myself thinking much less about OERs and far more about how to improve their discoverability as a way to improve OER adoption.  I finally realized that discovery of OER materials presents a problem that’s tailor-made for a federated search solution.

Looking across OER sources we find:

  • a large number of search targets (a federated search would save hundreds of clicks),
  • and fortunately each site is more-or-less focused (that’s good, minimizes noise in retrieval sets).
  • redundant content across many of these sources (de-duping retrieval would be a huge win, too bad eccentric metadata makes that difficult), and
  • a vertigo-inducing variety of search interfaces (distilling that to one would be great, wouldn’t it?).

Beyond improving the discovery process, building a federated search engine would also give us the opportunity to take a more expansive view of what constitutes an OER – by searching the more common OER repositories but also hitting sites that offer quality, open educational content even if that isn’t their sole or even primary purpose. Sites like DPLA, HathiTrust (of particular value where the educator belongs to a HathiTrust member institution), Internet Archive, and World Digital Library to name a few.

I pitched the idea to Abe Lederman, CEO at Deep Web Technologies (a company we use to provide several subject-specific metafinders). He was very enthusiastic and offered to help us turn the idea around quickly.  True to his word, within just a few weeks we had a powerful OER discovery service ready to go.  See https://library.gmu.edu/oermetafinder for the interface.  Currently the Mason OER Metafinder allows users to search 16 sites with a single click:

  1. American Memory Project (Library of Congress)
  2. AMSER – Applied Math and Science Education Repository
  3. BC Campus:Open Ed
  4. College Open Textbooks
  5. Digital Public Library of America
  6. Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB)
  7. HathiTrust – Full View Available
  8. Merlot.Org
  9. MIT OpenCourseware
  10. OAOpen.org
  11. OER Commons
  12. OERs at Internet Archive
  13. Open Textbook Library
  14. OpenStax CNX
  15. Project Gutenberg
  16. World Digital Library

After a few local attempts to publicize the tool with limited success, Deep Web Technologies’ staff posted a story about the OER Metafinder on their tech blog (http://bit.ly/2AMBdpt). That post was picked up by Information Today and other corporate PR news sites.  Soon our Metafinder began to build a small audience but still nothing dramatic. Three to four weeks later that we saw a large spike in traffic thanks to a mention of the site in a SPARC Libraries and OER Forum:

“I don’t remember seeing this announcement on any of our OER lists last month, or at OpenEd, but one of our library liaisons just forwarded it to me. It’s the announcement of an aggregated OER search engine created by George Mason and a web tech company, which looks, on the face of it, to be a “Google for OER”. It searches many open archival/book repositories (DPLA, HathiTrust, Internet Archive) as well as the standard OER ones (Merlot, OTL, OpenStax, etc.) and has some great limiters to narrow down results. Congrats GMU!”

This unsolicited mention on a listserv aimed at precisely the right group of people proved catalytic.  Within two days, I found 28 institutions already linking to our OER Metafinder.   Noticing that it was catching on with LibGuides users, I added sample search widget code to our “About the Metafinder” page — – see https://publishing.gmu.edu/the-mason-oer-metafinder-widget/  for details. Today, more than 100 sites are linking to the Metafinder, including five ASERL libraries (<– marked with asterisks below):
1. Albertus Magnus College
2. Anderson University
3. Arizona State University
4. Auraia Library
5. Austin Community College
6. Bates College
7. Bowling Green State University
8. Brandeis University
9. Brigham Young University
10. Brock University
11. Bronx Community College (CUNY)
12. Bucknell University
13. California State University San Marcos
14. Central Connecticut State University
15. Central Michigan University
16. City College of New York (CCNY)
17. Clackamas Community College
18. Clatsop Community College
19. College of the Canyons
20. College of William & Mary*
21. Colorado State University Pueblo
22. Columbus State Community College (Georgia)
23. Community College of Baltimore County
24. Denison University Libraries
25. Eastern Michigan University
26. Florida State University*
27. Fulton-Montgomery Community College
28. George Mason University*
29. George Washington University
30. Howard Community College (Maryland)
31. Hunter College (CUNY)
32. Iowa State University
33. Justice Institute of British Columbia
34. Kirkwood Community College (Iowa)
35. Lakehead University (Ontario)
36. Lansing Community College
37. Leeward Community College (Hawaii)
38. Lehman College (CUNY)
39. Linn-Benton Community College (Oregon)
40. Loyola University New Orleans
41. Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts
42. Massachusetts Maritime Academy
43. Montgomery County Community College (Pennsylvania)
44. National Science and Technology Development Agency (Thailand)
45. New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT)
46. New York University
47. Niagara College (Ontario)
48. Northern Illinois University
49. Northwestern Michigan College
50. Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD)
51. OER KnowledgeCloud
52. Open NYS
53. Otterbein University
54. Pasadena City College
55. Piedmont Virginia Community College
56. Pitt Community College
57. Randolph-Macon College
58. Rhode Island College
59. Rutgers University
60. Santa Clara University
61. Shenandoah University
62. Sonoma State University
63. Southern Connecticut State University
64. St. Cloud State University
65. SUNY Cortland
66. SUNY Old Westbury
67. Tacoma Community College
68. Temple University
69. Texas Tech University
70. University of Alaska Anchorage
71. University of Alaska Southeast
72. University of Arizona
73. University of Arkansas
74. University of British Columbia
75. University of California San Diego
76. University of Central Florida
77. University of Colorado
78. University of Houston-Victoria
79. University of Kansas
80. University of Kentucky
81. University of La Verne
82. University of Mary Washington
83. University of Massachusetts Amherst
84. University of Massachusetts Boston
85. University of Massachusetts Lowell
86. University of Missouri – Kansas City
87. University of New Orleans
88. University of North Carolina – Charlotte
89. University of Pittsburgh
90. University of Regina (Saskatchewan)
91. University of Richmond
92. University of South Carolina*
93. University of Texas – Arlington
94. University of Texas – Austin
95. University of the People
96. University of Winnipeg (Manitoba)
97. UtahOER
98. Victoria College
99. Villanova University
100. Virginia Tech*
101. Virginia Wesleyan University
102. Washington State University
103. Western Illinois University
104. Wilmington University
105. Worcester State University

We would love to see other ASERL libraries link to or offer a search box to the Mason OER Metafinder.  We’d also love to hear of other targets to include in our search for OER content.  I can be reached at wallyg <at> gmu.edu for questions or suggestions.